Halifax planners are proposing a year-long pilot project to reserve Spring Garden Road for buses only, meaning no cars would be allowed on the street between South Park and Queen streets from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m.
A section of Spring Garden Road has been closed for construction for streetscape improvements since June and is expected to reopen in January. The planners have proposed launching the project to start then.
Part of the idea, according to a report tabled at the transportation standing committee Thursday, is to help improve the reliability of transit buses.
"A 7am to 8pm daytime transit pilot is recommended as it allows for the improved reliability of transit, while allowing for general vehicle use of the street at times when transit and general traffic volumes are lower," reads the report. "Vehicle drivers will also add more "eyes on the street" in the evenings and overnight, potentially."
Planner Elora Wilkinson told the committee the project should launch as soon as the streetscaping work currently underway wraps up, as drivers haven't been able to use the street since June 2021.
"We have a unique opportunity where vehicle behaviour has had to adjust to the street being closed and that scenario would be the same as transit only so this is kind of a one-time opportunity," Wilkinson said during her presentation.
Success of the pilot would be assessed based on several factors, including pedestrian, customer, and transit rider experience on the street; public and area resident feedback; average transit travel time; and collision data and traffic volume on surrounding streets.
Pedestrians would benefit from making the street transit only, Wilkinson said.
"The pedestrian experience is one of the key factors to be gained here," she said.
"... What we're really expecting to see is the transit-only proposal would further enhance the place aspect of the new Spring Garden design and Spring Garden Road as a destination."
Wilkinson said planners are also looking to create a metric to measure how businesses are affected, should the pilot project get approval from regional council and move forward.
Coun. Becky Kent said she's not sure of the timing of the project because businesses are still rebounding from COVID-19 losses. Kent said she was also concerned people from outside Halifax visiting would not bother going to Spring Garden Road if cars couldn't drive through it.
"Parking in Halifax is rough, parking in Halifax is hard to find. And I understand people that we're trying to get people to use our transit system and get out of cars but there are a lot of visitors who will come and not necessarily do that," Kent said.
Waye Mason, the chair of the transportation committee and the district councillor for the Spring Garden Road area, said he was inclined to support the street going transit only. He said it could be like Princeton Street in Edinburgh, Scotland — a place he visited in 2017.
Regional council to consider proposal
"It's over a kilometre long and no cars, taxis and buses only and it was awesome," Mason said.
Mason said he was concerned about loading areas. Wilkinson said businesses are currently using side streets because of the closure due to construction.
"We've been seeing great success loading on side streets ... I would argue construction is probably a harder scenario to load in than what will be at the end when we'll have really nice wide sidewalks that are flat and level," Wilkinson said.
The Spring Garden Road Business Association said its members are divided on the proposal. The amount of local sales before and during the pilot project will be used to determine if the street should remain a transit-only corridor.
The transportation committee voted unanimously to send the the pilot project proposal to regional council for approval with an amendment that there be a check in at the six-month mark. Regional council would need to approve the project before it could go forward.
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